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100 Objects

Object #3. The Musician as an Object of Intrigue: BLOW Trio and Re-discovering Jazz as Popular Music

10 April 2017
Cardiff University Music The Musician as an Object of Intrigue

By Chris Stone, MA (Composition).

As popular music enters an era of unprecedented stylistic diversity, the practise of revisiting and re-contextualising older genre-specific tropes and conventions is increasingly popular with both artists and audiences alike. In particular, the return of traditional acoustic instruments to a place of prominence within popular music groups is becoming widespread. Veteran piano rocker Ben Folds offers this explanation for this latest wave of innovation in popular music:

‘The excitement of music is stuff that breaks the law. Maybe playing loud rock chords and being all pissed off looks old now. Someone coming on stage with a laptop and an oboe and rapping over it: that’s breaking the law.’

As an example of this rebellious, yet musically informed attitude, take BLOW, a Belgian trio who describe themselves as playing ‘dance music’, though with an unconventional acoustic instrumentation more commonly associated with jazz. Consisting of two tenor saxophones and a drummer, the line-up — who to date have played to countless small venues throughout Belgium and central Europe, as well as summer festival crowds in Spain — captivate audiences with a combination of enigmatic stage personae and thrilling, high energy arrangements that utilise the saxophone in a new context; the former achieved by their ominous band uniform of featureless white masks and black hoodies, the latter by a genuine idiomatic understanding of their instruments and their stylistic heritage.

BLOW’s highly visible on-stage artistry appeals to a reinvigorated desire among audiences to witness the instrumentalist’s craft first-hand; a fascination with experiencing virtuosity up close which adds to the value of live performance. As the popular music industry rethinks its revenue structure and artists become increasingly dependent upon live shows for income, consideration of the entertainment value of a performance has taken on a new importance; hence the re-popularisation of acoustic ensembles. Or perhaps, more cynically, audiences are simply becoming disinterested with the ‘static DJ’ figure, and have turned to seeking out more entertaining ‘gimmicks’ instead.

In any case, such a climate, and the example of BLOW, looks promising for the development of fusion jazz. In 2005 George McKay wrote that jazz was a music ‘past its dominant phase and into its residual one’, yet it is from that residue that BLOW and a new generation of jazz artists have formed a new, populist sound that has allowed them to migrate more and more from their designated jazz spaces and festivals, and back into the collective consumer consciousness.


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